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Bonnets, buggies, and bishops

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Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites
Donald B. Kraybill

Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010
328 pages


Do you get your Old Order Amish confused with Beachy Amish Mennonite? Many people find distinctions between the 205 North American Mennonite-related groups and core beliefs confusing. In this concise encyclopedia, Donald Kraybill – known for his work on the Amish, and for penning the classic Upside Down Kingdom – attempts to describe these groups who gain their spiritual inspiration from the Anabaptist reformation.

Today, they’re in 17 of the 23 countries in North America (including the Caribbean) with 8,711 congregations and 809,845 baptized adult members.

The book was written as a succinct guide for journalists, students, scholars, and others. Throughout the encyclopedia, Kraybill places groups and practices on a continuum from traditional to assimilated. Traditional groups assert moral authority through the community and find ways of separating themselves from society. Assimilated groups are individualistic and blend into their surrounding culture. These two underlying principles impact all aspects of life.

Kraybill wrote all the entries, which focus on cultural topics in the 20th century rather than historical or religious ones; of course, there is substantial overlap. Cross-references and bibliographies help the reader undertake further study. Topics cover theology, customs, and a few biographies and events. A directory and table of current groups helps the reader understand the origins, practices, location, and size of each group.

The content is well-researched and concisely written, however there are occasions where the Canadian content could be more complete. One may wonder if there is a need for another encyclopedia after the Mennonite Encyclopedia and the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (www.gameo.org). However, in some cases, entries in these sources are dated and lengthy. Kraybill’s book is current and compact, providing helpful and easily accessible information in one volume.

So, next time you’re vacationing in Jamaica, you can prepare to visit the local Mennonite church by educating yourself with the Concise Encyclopedia.

Conrad Stoesz is archivist for the Centre for MB Studies and the Mennonite Heritage Centre, Winnipeg.

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